Public anger at police behaviour during student protest

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Police faced widespread condemnation yesterday both for their aggressive tactics and the excessive numbers of officers employed during a largely peaceful student protest. Both politicians and members of the public have joined students in criticising the police’s actions during the event, which was to protest at the Government’s plan to cut education grants.

Whilst the protest was, unsurprisingly, verbally hostile towards the Tory Government, there was little violence from the students taking part. When a small group of black-clad anarchists clashed with officers outside the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, throwing eggs and letting off flares, the police used this as an excuse to surround and harass non-violent student protestors, escalating an already tense situation to dramatic levels. Students who had been peacefully exercising their democratic right to protest suddenly found themselves submerged in a swarm of yellow-jacketed officers, which led to confusion and anger.

Police were seen chasing students around central London, and their conduct came in for criticism by many. One observer, who hadn’t been part of the protest, said the scenes made him less trustworthy of the police, and onlooker Jeanette, mother of two, said the officers ‘had shown no regard for young children’. It wasn’t just the public who were shocked at police tactics, with MP Dianne Abbot remarking that she was ‘surprised at the level of policing’ during the event. Many students were also unimpressed with what they saw as excessive force being used. Hope Worsdale, spokeswoman for the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, said the group supported ‘non-violent direct action’ and claimed that ‘often the police are violent towards protesters but that usually gets missed’.

Twelve arrests were made during the protests, with the Met claiming that a ‘small group of protestors attempted to push their way into the Department for Business building but were prevented by police.’ If it was such a small group, why was the response to surround the vast majority of students peacefully protesting? No one is arguing that the police aren’t needed to supervise student’s right to protest, but it seems that, once again, police took a heavy-handed approach when it wasn’t justified or needed. With David Cameron’s administration unlikely to let up with plans to cut education grants, it is surely time for Scotland Yard to have a long hard think about their strategy for dealing with the student protests that will inevitably follow this one.

Rob Godmon

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